The westernmost site of the ancient Khmer empire so far discovered, the reconstructed laterite sanctuary of Prasat Mueang Singh provides history enthusiasts with a more distant layer of the past to explore and it’s well worth a detour while daytripping to other outlying attractions such as Hellfire Pass.
Dated to around the 13th century, the square-shaped sanctuary sits at the centre of flat, tree-lined land that once hosted a 103-hectare city rimmed by an 880-metre laterite wall and the River Khwae Noi to the south. While thought to have been one of 23 satellite cities of Angkor mentioned in an ancient inscription, the city’s original name has been lost to history. King Rama I coined the Thai name, Mueang Singh (“Lion City”), in the late 18th century.
Visitors pass through any of four gopura gates and climb down ancient steps to a central prasat representing Mount Meru, centre of the universe in Hindu cosmology. Here stands an exquisite image of Avalokitesvara, Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, displaying a concentrated face and hundreds of tiny Buddha images on the body armour. All eight of its hands were cracked off, leaving us to ponder if they were taken for their value or destroyed by superstitious locals bent on limiting the perceived power of the image.
In a second room set further back, a stunning image of Prajnaparamita also lost both arms, though its hobbit-like feet remain. Sunlight reaches through entrances on all four sides and frames the statue in haunting scenes. Other minor statuary and lintels once adorned the sanctuary; a few are displayed in the small museum beside the visitor centre, while others have been lost or moved to the National Museum in Bangkok.
Visitors who venture beyond the central sanctuary will find three more ancient monuments consisting of little more than laterite bases and walls. There’s also an ancient burial site set near the river in an out-of-the-way spot, where roughly 1,500-year-old human remains and pottery were unearthed. The roots of dipterocarp and jackfruit trees provide shade throughout the complex.
Beginning in 1974, the restoration work at Prasat Mueang Singh was rather rushed and, as a result, controversial. Accurate records were not kept and some of the reconstruction may have strayed from the original form.
Even so, we feel the ruins are worth a look particularly if you can’t make it to the more impressive Khmer ruins at Phanom Rung, Phimai or Angkor. Your chances of having the complex all to yourself, or sharing it with busloads of package tourists, are about equal.
How to get there
Prasat Mueang Singh is located 35 km west of Kanchanaburi town and is not included on most group tours. To get here on your own, take Route 323 northwest out of town and look for blue signs pointing left; from there it’s a five km ride to the entrance along Highway 3455, a road lined with yellow trumpet trees and tapioca fields.
If coming by train, get off at Tha Kilen Station and walk a half-km to the main road, hang a right and you’ll reach the entrance after another few hundred metres; just keep in mind that you’ll need to wait several hours for a train back to Kanchanaburi.
Admission for foreigners is 100 baht per person plus 20 for a motorbike or 50 for a car. Open daily 08:00-16:30.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 10th February, 2017.
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